Chris Evans is retir—wait what was that? About money?
Chris Evans has a fancy Variety profile in advance of Captain America: The Winter Soldier opening in the US next week (have I mentioned today that it’s really good?). The headline is that he’s going to leave acting and pursue directing, full-time, once his Marvel contract is done (he has three pictures remaining on his deal). It’s more of what we’ve been hearing from Evans since he told us that he was so totally over being a superhero. It’s part clarification—he will be finishing out his Marvel contract—and part confirmation—Chris Evans, Actor is making way for Chris Evans, Director. (I mean if Ben Affleck can do it, why not Chris Evans?)
But of course those aren’t the details that caught my eye. What I got stuck on were all the mentions of Evans’ Marvel contract. Marvel is notoriously stingy, locking actors into long-term contracts with “mere” six-figure salaries and no guarantee of back end bonuses. If your name isn’t Robert Downey, Jr., chances are your nine-picture Marvel deal is not getting you that private island. Evans is one of the lowest-paid Avengers, but it is asserted that he sees no back end at all under his current contract. Um. Bullsh*t?
Marvel co-president Kevin Feige is quoted as saying that they originally didn’t pursue Evans for Captain America, but in the end, Marvel ended up courting him hard. They cut their standard nine-picture deal to six for him, so that that cameo he did in Thor: The Dark World had to be negotiated separately, which means extra money. I’m not saying he’s making RDJ money—no one but RDJ is making RDJ money—but Chris Evans is not Marvel’s indentured servant.
And then they brought up merchandising and suddenly we’re in a different place entirely with this profile. Ostensibly it’s about Chris Evans retiring from acting, but a whole lot of words are dedicated to his contract and RDJ is on the record as saying he’s “working on” getting them a cut of the merchandising. Are the Avengers hard-balling Marvel in Variety over toy money? It kind of looks that way.
The more successful these movies are—the more successful movies Marvel makes—the more agents are going to ask for their clients. And it’s not just the returning actors, either—every time they go to sign a new name to a project, they’re going to enter negotiations knowing the earning potential. Marvel is never going to be the most lucrative studio for an actor, but they’re going to be paying talent from somewhere. If not backend (and I’m still side-eyeing you, Evans), then in some kind of bonus structure or, say, a wildly lucrative cameo.
Merchandising has, historically, been tough to get in on, but it’s only a matter of time before that kind of profit-sharing becomes inevitable. These tentpoles are simply too lucrative—eventually a large cast not unlike the Avengers is going to band together and hold out for a cut. Marvel pioneered these long-term deals—why not set the precedent for merchandising, too? Better to do it yourself and set a percentage you can live with than let someone like Hasbro do it and leave you floundering in their Monopoly-money wake. Or, worse, have the whole avaricious mess end up in a trade like Variety.